Tag Archives: autism

Autistic Teens Start with Gumball Machines to Learn Business Management

autism gumball machine business

While you are out and about in your local mall or your local doctors office, you may see a gumball machine.

Simply put in a quarter, turn the knob, and a gumball drops out of the chute. Something you may have not known is that those simple gumball machines sometimes provide benefits to people, even jobs. In this case, four young teenagers by the name of Ronny, Dylan, Jack, and Reshaun have begun lessons in entrepreneurship through these little candy machines.

These young men also happen to have autism spectrum disorder, but they aren’t letting that stop them from learning to become successful like anyone else. Easter Seals, which is a service that reaches out to all people of different disabilities including autism and more, has created a program called “Bubble 2 Work”. Their job is to maintain, re-fill, and collect money from the machines. With that, the seeds are planted and the boys begin to understand how to run a business.

Kelly Anne Ohde of Easter Seals has stated that it’s an opportunity for them to gain real world experience for them.

Gumball machines are located in 17 south suburban establishments in Illinois where people interact with others, including customers and even a state senator, Senator Michael Hastings. Hastings describes that the four teens are “great kids.”

“We traded movie quotes, what’s going on and what it’s like to be a senator,” he says of his relationship to the four young men.

Not only are the teens learning how to run a business which will indefinitely help them in the future, they are also improving their social skills and even learning new things from influential people like Hastings.

And that’s not all. Ronny, Dylan, Jack, and Reshaun’s job training teaches other people about autism.  Tony Gloria of Rocco Vino’s Italian Restaurant, where the four work on the gumball machines, welcomes them to eat there on their lunch breaks, saying that they have a “personal understanding.”

In this day in time, we must remember the importance of instilling knowledge into our young people regardless of the challenges they face. All children and teens deserve an equal chance at a bright and successful future.

Taja Kenney, Eerie Community College

Ballet Changes Everything for Autistic Young Man

ballet autism

Imagine not being able to speak or communicate with your loved ones. What if you were only able to express yourself through actions and not words?

For the average person, just getting across basic ideas would be a huge challenge. But 20 year old Phillip Martin-Nelson, who was diagnosed with the most severe form of autism at a very young age, now stars in a premier ballet company. For the very first three years of his life he could not speak or tolerate the touch of another person, let alone sharing eye contact.

He now thanks dance and claims that it saved his life, stating that he would have never been able to live on his own or take care of himself without it. Growing up, his parents put him in sports and gymnastics and when he finally was able to speak, Martin-Nelson told them that he wanted to dance. He says that by learning to dance, his parents saw him focus and become excited about what he was doing for the first time.

With that being said, dance affected every aspect of his life to the point where he even spent his lunch time playing music and dancing.

Today he is a principal dancer at Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, an all-male dance company. He cannot stress enough the big impact that dancing has had in his life.

“If I didn’t have ballet, if I never stepped into that first ballet class I probably would have never recovered, Martin Nelson said in an interview with MyFoxNY. “I would probably still be in special schools to this day and trying to just get by.”

The young man gives a big thanks to his therapists and other support systems for helping him to get where he is today.

Therapy plays a big role in the lives of children that have autism. Observing and noticing not only your child’s needs, but also their interests and passions can change their lives and take a whole new direction.

Baseball League Provides Recreational Outlet for the Autistic

include autism baseball

We’ve always heard that it’s not about whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. For the members of the Include Autism baseball team, this proverb takes on a whole new meaning.

Around 20 young men between ages 5 and 22 get together one a month to play ball on the Lunging Lizards and Thunder Pandas teams purely for the joy of the sport.

The classic American pastime is adapted for the needs of those with autism spectrum disorder. The rules are modified to include just two innings, while some players get extra help from an adult while hitting the ball. No one seems too concerned about foul balls, stealing bases, or field positions.

The games are heavily attended by encouraging family and friends who show their support from the bleachers. 18 year old Chase is usually irritated by large crowds, but he feels comfortable on the baseball field located at Twin Trails Park in Rancho Peñasquitos, CA.

Even being comfortable in a large group is a big step for Chase, according to his mother. While running toward a base, Chase gets distracted by a stick. He proceeds to wander over to a tree and play with the twigs there. He may be done with the game for today, but that’s just fine with mom- it was a good day for her son if he enjoyed himself with the team.

The nonprofit Include Autism organizes the baseball games to provide athletic activities for children who do not fit in with traditional little league teams. Even those who are more high-functioning have difficulty following all the rules of a traditional game. Include Autism was founded in 2003 by Tina Waters in order to provide socialization opportunities for children and adults with ASD.

The baseball league is managed by Tina’s husband Mark. Each player is assigned a buddy to help him hit the balls, field them, and run bases. Members of Include Autism pair up with the most severely disabled players, while high school volunteers are assigned to the more high-functioning boys.

Games are capped at two innings because of the player’s tolerance for crowds and social activity. Some of the boys have sensory issues with wearing uniforms and helmets. Everyone is reminded to watch the ball since many are easily distracted.

“It’s really fun to help the kids like this who don’t get to play regular baseball,” says Tyler Cunningham, a 14 year high schooler who has been volunteering with Include Autism for five years. “Watching them hit the ball is my favorite part.”

Shining a Light on Autism in the Workspace

autism harsh lighting

One of the hallmark traits of Autism Spectrum Disorder is hypersensitivity, which is an abnormally intense sensitivity to a particular substance. This hypersensitivity can be found in relation to smells, textures, tastes, sounds, and lighting.

A major component of Autism Spectrum Disorder is abnormal differences in sensory integration. What would be a soft blanket to typically developing persons could feel like steel wool to an individual with ASD. As a result, persons with ASD have to learn to manipulate their interaction with the world to control these sensitivities and functionally work in common spaces.

Hypersensitivity to fluorescent lighting is a common problem with ASD in the home, school, and workplace. Fluorescent lights double the cycle of common light bulbs at 120Hz. Though this change is nearly imperceptible to most people, for persons with autism, this peripheral change becomes the focus of their direct observation, and so they perceive the light’s rapid changes in color, producing a flickering effect. Combine the terror this feeling invokes with the headache and nausea that fluorescent lighting usually causes in typically developing persons, and you get a very real idea of the toxic reality that this causes for persons with ASD.

In order to combat the nightmarish effects of fluorescent lighting, there are some tricks to alleviate individuals’ hypersensitive reactions without diminishing the quality of electronic resources:

·      Angle computers so they don’t reflect overhead lights

·      Turn off unnecessary lighting whenever possible

·      Replace fluorescent bulbs with normal ones or LED bulbs that limit the flickering effect

Taking the aforementioned steps is a simple solution that can immediate make the individual more comfortable. Creating a safe and comfortable space, whether it be at home or in the office, can make a world of difference for a person with ASD at almost no cost to their peers. It is therefore crucial that the problems of hypersensitivity be taught to laypeople in order to fully integrate highly functioning individuals with ASD who wish to live an independent life.

You can find the original article here.

Sara Power, Fordham University

Disco Classes Act as Therapy for Autistic Twins


We all need an outlet – something that lets us break free and be ourselves away from everyday stress.  It can be cooking, hiking, or just picking up a good book and relaxing on the sofa, and this is especially true for children with autism whom suffer daily with emotional stress and anxiety.  Sheila Hobley, a mother of three autistic children, knows exactly how important it is for her children to escape into another world of their own.

After giving birth to her first son, Alex, who is now 16, Sheila was devastated and confused when he was diagnosed with autism.  As a young, 26-year-old mother, it was challenging to deal with a disease she knew so little about and the behavioral side effects that accompanied it.  When Sheila and Alex’s father separated and she entered into a relationship with her current spouse, Andy, she was terrified to have another child in fear that any other children she may have would also have autism.

As doctors reassured her that her chances of having another autistic child were slim to none (about 1 in 1,000), Shelia and Andy felt confident and were ready to add to their family.  But even though the odds were in their favor, Sheila gave birth prematurely to two autistic twins, George and Jimmy.

At first the doctors denied they boys had any such condition and tried to persuade Sheila she was wrong.  But it didn’t take long for the classic signs of autism to begin showing up in the twins, and even caretakers of the boys noticed as well.  They would roll on the floor, rip each other’s hair out, and bite at just three months of age.

As the twins grew into toddlers, it got worse, causing a huge strain on the family.  Sheila and Andy were living in fear after finding knives and scissors that George had hid under his bed that he said were meant to harm Jimmy.  George would go from being violent one minute to expressing his love for his mother the next.  The constant tantrums, outbursts, and biting fits led Sheila to depend on antidepressants to cope with her emotional pain.  By then, she was desperate to find a way for the twins to channel their energy.

It was when she stumbled across a pamphlet for disco dance classes for kids that she decided to give it a try.  Although George was not impressed with the idea, Jimmy finally found something he loved to do.  Sheila admits that at first he wasn’t all too graceful, but he soon emerged to show his gift for the dance.  He went on to win the national Disco Kid Championships and even had a documentary filmed about him.

Sheila claims Disco didn’t just help socialize Jimmy; it even helped him improve his school skills as well.  She says she was the most worried about him, because his autism was the most severe.  But after moving to the beat of his own drum, Jimmy has shined through his inhibitions.

You can read the original article here

Mara Papaleo, Cleveland State University

California Ranch Would Provide Work and Direction for Adults with Autism

Autistic Farm Workers

Every year, approximately 50,000 people with autism graduate from the school system. That’s as large as many US cities.

In Solano County, California, Jeanine Stanley wants to bring to fruition a ranch that would give some of these young adults a place to go. When her son Ben was diagnosed with autism at age 3, Stanley did not know where to turn since so little was known about asd.

“You end up teaching the teachers,” she told the San Jose Mercury News. “We had to be the pioneers.”

The involved Lafayette mother spent the remainder of her son’s career in school researching all the best therapies and ensuring he received the best treatment possible in order to ensure his academic success. The question remained, however, as to what would become of him when school was completed.

To address this issue for her son and others like him, Ms. Stanley has been working with other advocates to fund a ranch in Fairfield where autistic individuals can apply their talents into practical work. Named after her son (whose middle name is Walker) the property is being referred to as the B. Walker Ranch.

Young adults with autism have are often praised for their ability to focus on independent tasks. With about 1 in 68 people being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, few programs exist that help channel their abilities. Around 70 percent of these adults suffer from unemployment or underemployment.

Stanley thought back to her own childhood experiences working on a commercial flower farm with her family, and the idea for the program was born. It is her aspiration to connect with autistics who have little direction in their lives, and work with them to determine their strengths. They are then matched with tasks on the working day ranch in order to give them a sense of purpose.

Each participant will have the program tailored to suit their strengths and needs. Tasks include making jam, pulling weeds, and fixing equipment like tractors. Individuals on the spectrum often excel at repetitive tasks and seek detailed organization.

The creators of the ranch not only aim to provide structured work for the participants, they also want to use these tasks to teach problem solving, valuable work skills, and coping skills. The ranch will also provide art therapy and occupational therapy.

The 10 acre property lies just west of Fairfield and was gifted to Stanley’s organization by a benefactor and includes a 19th century house and barn. They have secured a 99-year lease so ensure the program’s longevity. The California ranch is located near bus and train transit lines. The organizers of the B. Walker Ranch hope to begin with 25 workers.

University Programs that Help Autistic Children Cope with Anxiety

Drawing made by a child at Temple University's Coping Cat Program | The Philadelphia Inquirer

Drawing made by a child at Temple University’s Coping Cat Program | The Philadelphia Inquirer

For an autistic child, all kinds of issues can arise which may seem trite to most; but for them, even pizza bubbles could trigger anxiety.

Between 40 and 60 percent of people on the spectrum suffer from at least one anxiety disorder, while around 20 percent report living with more than one. Research programs to discover more information about these symptoms have conducted some interesting work recently, notably those at Temple University, Drexel, and UCLA.

Conner Kerns works as an assistant professor at A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. Kerns has experienced a lack of effective treatment for anxiety disorders in people with autism. The current methods for treating anxiety disorder are not usually designed for those affected by autism.

Children with autism, for instance, are often disgruntled at a small change in routine. These atypical triggers are specifically associated with symptoms of autism, so a specialized knowledge and diagnosis is required for effective treatment.

Kerns is now developing a specialized diagnostic criteria for autism-associated anxiety disorders, which includes the trademark characteristics of social and communication difficulty and repetitive actions. She attributes the lack of comprehensive understanding about autism-specific anxiety disorders on clinicians’ tendency to group all symptoms under the broader disorder.

The need for proper treatment, however is apparent as the children grow older. In the state of Pennsylvania, it is projected that 36,000 adults will be seeking treatment for autism. In a 2011 survey, between 20 and 50 percent of children and adults in the state reported that their mental health care needs were not being met. This includes anxiety disorders.

Philip Kendall is the director of the Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders Clinic. With the help of Conner Kerns, a former student of his, he will be carrying out in-depth research on anxiety disorder treatment for autistic children using two psychosocial treatments.

One of these projects is The Coping Cat Program, which was created by Kerns 20 years ago. This program runs for 16 weeks and teaches children to first recognize the signs of anxiety, such as increased heart rate and shaking. They are then taught how to cope with this anxiety, which requires them to expose themselves to their triggers in order to deal with them. The children must go to crowded places with unfamiliar people and alter their routines in order to face their fears; sitting around and talking about them is simply not enough.

The second program children will be participating in is called the BIACA (Behavioral Interventions for Anxiety in Children with Autism) program. BIACA will build on the methodology of The Coping Cat program, but sessions will be tailored for kids on the autistic spectrum. Treatment includes more parental involvement and emphasizes social skills, and a reward system is implemented to mark progress.

Both of these programs will be studied for their effectiveness, and will include a control group of children who receive no treatment. Researchers want to know which of these programs is most effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety. They are also paying special attention to whether each program reduces autism-linked symptoms.

Seven Ways to Use Play-Based Therapy with Your Child

kid play

A number of different therapies can be beneficial to improving the social and motor skills of an autistic child. Some examples include Applied Behavioral Analysis and Pivotal Response Training. Methods that include your child’s favorite playtime activities can be effective for improving their symptoms if used in a way they respond well to.

Play-based therapy can help with your child’s skills in the areas of communication, fine and gross motor development, joint attention, peer socializing, patience, following directions, and much more. Play therapy may be structured in certain ways that children with autism respond well to.

Though behaviors and symptoms vary widely amongst the spectrum, children with asd tend to exhibit “stimming” tendencies. Stimming refers to repetitive behaviors that may serve to comfort the child. Children with autism also commonly prefer rigid structure in their daily activities and often have difficulty when patterns change and things do not play out as expected. Implementing play-based methods can help them cope with unexpected situations, and can improve their sense of security in general.

Here are some tips for using play therapy effectively with a child on the autistic spectrum:

1. Start out on the same playing field.

The child will respond better if they are coaxed out of their comfort zone slowly, not forced into it. Take it one step at a time for the best outcome; do not expect anything to happen overnight.

2. Participate in activities you know they already enjoy.

You can do this by watching the child and mirroring their behavior. Imitate what they are doing. He or she will feel like they are part of something when you actively participate.

3. Make small changes to their activities to expand their thinking.

Again, start with small steps. For example, if the child likes playing with toy cars, take one of the cars and make it do something new.

4. Work up to making them more comfortable with sharing.

If your child does not respond well when others touch their belongings, slowly increase the amount of interaction you have with them that involves taking things away.

5. Communicate even if they do not respond.

For a child who struggles with verbalization, getting the words out can be a challenge. Comment on your child’s activities even if they do not converse back.

6. Show them their needs are important to you.

Try to offer them things they might want often. If they are comfortable and enjoying themselves, they will learn to associate you with positivity.

7. Be fun, enthusiastic, and engaging.

Show genuine interest in the child and what they are doing.

Check out the original article here

Research for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Gets a Boost


A Canadian University received praise in response to their use of a treatment for autism called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.

The research program at Simon Frasier University received this prize in the form of a $500,000 grant from Central City Brewing and Distillery President Darryl Frost. Frost and his wife were compelled to donate to the program after seeing the improvements their son had made after receiving intensive HBOT.

5 year old Callum, who had struggled with behavioral issues, began undergoing the treatment along with dietary changes to improve his symptoms. Before the therapy he began, his father Daryl described him as an “extremely low-functioning child” who was not capable of communicating, feeding himself, or getting dressed independently. He also exhibited aggression, tantrums, and self-harming behavior.

Now, Callum’s father claims he can speak in full sentences, can eat and dress by himself, and is fully potty trained. His behavior and communication has largely improved and he attends kindergarden with the help of an aid.

During an HBOT session, the patient is placed in a pressure chamber where they are able to breathe 100% oxygen. The researchers claim that this allows for greater tissue saturation by up to ten times when compared to normal pressure.

The newly funded HBOT study will be conducted by SFU’s Environmental Medicine and Physiology Unit and the university’s associate dean from the Faculty of Science. The study is planned to accept 40 volunteers, both children and adults. Some of the individuals will have autism while others will not. Research will likely begin by 2016. Though studies on HBOT and its effectiveness on autism symptoms have been conducted in the past, the results were fairly subjective and difficult to measure scientifically.

This time around, SFU will be using the university’s Magnetoencephalography (MEG) machine. This piece of technology is the most modern brain imaging device available to the university. Using the MEG machine, scientist will be able to track brain oscillations and note changes in mental network connectivity. It will also enable scientists to determine which patients will benefit most from HBOT.

It is not yet clear how this treatment will improve symptoms of autism. What researchers do know is that HBOT increases the oxygen supply to the blood stream, therefore allowing more oxygen to reach the brain. In turn, they theorize that this increased oxygen energizes brain cells and cell pathways. This may actually help repair cells that are damaged or functioning at a low metabolic level.

You can read the original article here.

Looking for the perfect autism book to read with your family during Hanukkah?

Special-Needs-BLOGNicole Katzman’s book, Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles brings together various themes related to the holiday, family, acceptance, and autism. The book is about a boy named Jacob who loves his brother Nathan. Nathan has autism, and when Hanukkah comes, Jacob worries that Nathan might embarrass him in front of his new friend. Katzman is a mother of four children, one diagnosed with autism.

The book is illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau and presents an artistic way many of the thoughts and feelings children with special needs experience.

Katzman said that she wanted to convey the value of acceptance in her book. In an interview, she stated, “Accepting the other in our midst is an important Jewish value. As a mother of a child with autism child I didn’t feel that acceptance. All too often I found the situation to be reverse and at times painful. I knew that in order to help children understand how to accept the other they needed a story to which they could relate.”

Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles is a great resource and teaching tool for children.

Click here to read more about the book or here to purchase.